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FCC puts the squeeze on SpaceX’s Starlink

More than two years after SpaceX had first requested regulatory permission to launch its full 30,000 Starlink satellite constellation, FCC (under the Biden administration) has finally made a decision, and in doing so it has arbitrarily reduced the number of satellites SpaceX can launch to 7,500.

On November 29th, 2022, the FCC completed that review and granted SpaceX permission to launch just 7,500 of the ~30,000 Starlink Gen2 satellites it had requested permission for more than 30 months prior. The FCC offered no explanation of how it arrived at its arbitrary 75% reduction, nor why the resulting number is slightly lower than a different 7,518-satellite Starlink Gen1 constellation SpaceX had already received a license to deploy in late 2018. Adding insult to injury, the FCC repeatedly acknowledges that “the total number of satellites SpaceX is authorized to deploy is not increased by our action today, and in fact is slightly reduced.”

That claimed reduction is thanks to the fact that shortly before this decision, SpaceX told the FCC in good faith that it would voluntarily avoid launching the dedicated V-band Starlink constellation it already received a license for in order “to significantly reduce the total number of satellites ultimately on orbit.” Instead, once Starlink Gen2 was approved, it would request permission to add V-band payloads to a subset of the 29,988 planned Gen2 satellites, achieving a similar result without the need for another 7,518 satellites.

In response, the FCC slashed the total number of Starlink Gen2 satellites permitted to less than the number of satellites approved by the FCC’s November 2018 Starlink V-band authorization; limited those satellites to middle-ground orbits, entirely precluding Gen2 launches to higher or lower orbits; and didn’t even structure its compromise in a way that would at least allow SpaceX to fully complete three Starlink Gen2 ‘shells.’ Worse, the FCC’s partial grant barely mentioned SpaceX’s detailed plans to use new E-band antennas on Starlink Gen2 satellites and next-generation ground stations, simply stating that it will “defer acting on” the request until “further review and coordination with Federal users.”

Apparently, the FCC’s decision here was essentially a rubber-stamp of recommendations by Amazon, whose Kuiper constellation (so far entirely unlaunched) would be SpaceX’s direct competitor. In other words, the FCC is now taking sides against Starlink to favor its competitors.

Read the entire article. In every way this FCC decision smacks of politics, partly to help a Democratic ally (Jeff Bezos) and partly to hurt someone the Democrats now see as an enemy (Elon Musk).

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


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  • John Fisher

    Anyone besides me think that the FAA will now use this as a further excuse to slow roll Starship on the basis that ‘the market for launches currently doesn’t require it’?

  • Greg Jones

    I’m not a lawyer, and I know nothing about admiralty law. That said, merchant ships can register in whatever nation they like. If the U.S. / FCC / etc. invent too much drama, it seems to me that SpaceX can register / operate / etc. in a friendly / friendlier spacefaring nation that will welcome SpaceX plans and ideas. The FCC alone – in addition to everything else – proves that the U.S. does not treat wealth and money in a stable, predictable way. The FCC would think twice about all this bull excrement if they felt a little alternative competition. With luck, a new Congress might zero out specific FCC spending to enforce all this, but good luck usually doesn’t happen these days. Of course, if SpaceX escaped to freedom, the FCC would likely outlaw Americans from buying SpaceX products and services. Yeah – kinda like the Jones Act . . . which would only increase the pressure for those SpaceX customers to leave the U.S., for freedom.

    Mr. Zimmerman himself talks about the wonders of competition all the time on the John Batchelor Show. I would totally support SpaceX if they left the U.S. In a smaller way, I personally expect SpaceX to completely bail out of California sometime in the next five years, joining countless other business, people, and wealth escaping to freedom.

    BTW, I live in California. Only an economic implosion will lead to a rebirth of freedom in CA . . .

  • Alton

    Problem is current US Law allows the USG to control the launch (Go or NoGo) of any companies (US Registered) or US Citizen….no matter what point on Earth you launch from …including the international waters of the Deep Pacific .

  • pzatchok

    Plus all rocket tech is considered regulated and can not leave the country without permission.

    Do you really think this administration would let him or the company leave?

    And if he leaves he would have a huge huge huge tax problem.

  • David Eastman

    This smells like a very large lawsuit. To arbitrarily change and lower already granted approvals, without explanation, and just coincidentally matching the recommendation of a competitor.. yeah, not going to fly. Of course, that will take years to reach completion, and as they say “the process is the punishment.”

  • Greg Jones: I post the following text whenever someone naively suggests SpaceX should simply leave the U.S.:
    Why is it the first reaction of so many people when I post stories like this is to suggest that Elon Musk flee, to run away? Not only can’t he do it (both for legal and practical reasons), it is the worst possibly reaction to this government overreach.

    It is time all Americans stopped running. There really is no where else to go. We need to stand and fight, and force the government and its intolerant minions to back down. Otherwise, freedom will continue to lose ground everywhere.

    I expect Musk to fight, as he has fought and won previously.

    As for moving:

    1. Legally he can’t. SpaceX as a rocket company falls until strict federal regulations. No matter where he moves those regulations will apply, especially because much of his work force and materials will come from the U.S.

    2. Practically he can’t. The qualified workers and infrastructure doesn’t exist in these other locations. You can’t simply recreate this kind of hi-tech company in South Africa, in Mexico, or any other third world country.

  • Greg Jones

    Mr. Zimmerman: apologies. Yup – fighting (back) IS better, and now I’m ashamed that I did not suggest that. I guess I believe that standing and fighting American tyrannies doesn’t effectively work these days. The “bring a gun to a knife fight” stories you report – all awesome news – kinda seem small compared to those tyrannies.

    Lawsuits will likely help, but as Mr. Eastman explained above, that can become pyrrhic. In addition to lawsuits, Musk needs to up his game with these resistance tools:

    1. Political campaign contributions: he needs to outpay / outbid all of his crony socialist (IOW “crony capitalist”) “competitors”, and opposition overall – with enough extra to sweeten the deal. Mr. Bankman-Fried alone paid almost US $50 million of political campaign contribution money, so the left can’t logically complain.

    2. Welcome friendly Twitter voices: shine light on the government / crony socialist tyrannies that want to destroy him, what he has built, and the truth he wants told.

    Those tools seem to work for his opposition.

    The ultimate tragedy of all this will become the next explosive company that carefully starts and succeeds outside the U.S., to avoid American government madness . . .

  • Edward

    I see another side to this story. Starlink is no longer under pressure to put 15,000 satellites into orbit in a short amount of time in order to secure the radio frequencies. They only have to put 3,500 satellites into orbit.

  • BLSinSC

    “Nice little company you have there – would be a shame if it wasn’t ALLOWED to OPERATE”!!! I don’t know anyone who has actually SAID that to MR. MUSK – not DIRECTLY anyway!! Look for even MORE of this from the regime or whatever word the chinese use!!

  • jim

    The FCC, like the FIB, DOJ, HHS, and so forth, have merely become shock-troops of the current regime. It’s a bit like the gangster telling a store owner, “It’d be a shame if anything happened to your nice store”.

  • Edward

    BLSinSC and jim,
    It is clear that the Democratic Party and its governance regime is instituting Obama’s policy of rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Unlike many of the leaders of today’s technology companies, Musk is not toeing The Party line or obeying government (FBI, etc.) direction. Anyone not for them is defined as against them and must be punished. It is not so much a “shame” as it is a Party requirement that they not be allowed to operate freely or that something happens to the business.

    Oh! And look: something has happened to the business. So much for securing “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The Constitution may not be perfect, but it is better than what we are governed by now.

    Welcome to Obama’s fundamentally transformed America, land of the formerly free.

  • Edward: Though we are in complete agreement on the harm Obama did to America, I truly think you are wrong to repeatly imply this present disaster began with him. There were many factors for many decades, and in the political world, the tide finally turned for the worst with the decision by the political class (including the press) as well as the public to let Bill Clinton off the hook. That action essentially endorsed lying and cheating by politicians, including taking political contributions from foreign powers (the Chinese). The Washington swamp has never looked back.

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman,
    You wrote: “Though we are in complete agreement on the harm Obama did to America, I truly think you are wrong to repeatly imply this present disaster began with him.

    I am not trying to imply that the current governance began with Obama but that it is ending due to his presidency. Things were not this bad until America lost the most important election in its history, the 2008 election. You weren’t writing about the coming Dark Age before Obama, because it is brought on by his fundamental transformation of the country, as we meanly lose the last best hope of earth.

    Many arguments can be made for different beginning points, from the left taking over our schools, entertainment, and news media in the 1980s, to LBJ turning us into a welfare state, to FDR turning us into a socialized state (which really started in a Fabian way around 1913), to the loss of federalism with the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, to the loss of state’s rights from the civil war, to the founding if the Democratic Party, to the wrong side winning the Whiskey Rebellion (a favorite argument of a friend of mine).

    Of all these (and any others you may come up with), Obama’s fundamental transformation of America has had the greatest effect and presents the greatest danger. It was with Obama that the government took sides in our elections, rewarded Democratic Party friends and punished The Party’s enemies, and began controlling business in a central way that had not been done before. Central control of (un)healthcare has spread insidiously into most other business areas. This central control is the source of our current shortages and inflation (e.g. the money supply is now controlled by the president, not the Federal Reserve). The blacklisting and cancel culture that you post daily is due to the Obama policy of punishing enemies and rewarding friends — in order to not be punished, people, organizations, and businesses must toe The Party line.

    The Republican Party had its chance to take back our country, but they were distracted by a couple of poorly thought-out tweets, and now we await our fate at the hands of The Party. The only thing delaying the complete transformation is the lack of control over the courts, but once that branch of government falls, we all fall.

    This is Obama’s fundamentally transformed America. Welcome to it. We are spending the rest of our lives in it, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren are condemned to it.

  • Edward: I have been observing the coming dark age since around 1999. I just did not have a website until 2011 (which was during Obama’s reign).

    And all the things you correctly note about Obama were done as viciously by Clinton. Nixon also, but in the 1970s this was still America, and Nixon was punished for it. Clinton walked, and thus laid the groundwork for Obama’s worse behavior.

  • Edward

    Clinton only tried to do some of these things. Obama succeeded, and we are living under his transformation, not Clinton’s.

    Clinton’s attempt to take over healthcare ran into well-deserved roadblocks, but Obama had help from Republicans, who by then were already moving far to the left and were even farther left when, in 2016, they promised to fix America if we elected the Republican candidate as president. Clinton’s punishment, his impeachment, was for lying under oath and obstruction of justice over his own behavior, not for transforming America into something it is not meant to be. Obama put more corruption in better places, so he won.

    My apologies for not knowing how far back you realized we were coming into dark ages, as you didn’t post your first expression if this until seven years ago, about three years after I first came to your site: (By the way, the link to the Wimp Nation essay is broken.)

  • wayne

    The 16th Amendment breached a basic firewall, without which the federal government would not have the power to tax & spend to the degree they have been for the past 100 years.
    (holy cow, we fought an entire Revolution over taxes. I’d go so far as to say, ‘there’s nothing “American” about paying Taxes.’)

    “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

    The 17th Amendments breached yet another firewall– For what good reason do we need the Senate, if they are not directly accountable to the State Legislatures which created the Federal government?

    “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, *elected by the people thereof, * for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”

    Personally, I’m pleased that Edward reminds us that Obama remains unfinished business. He’s the Face of American Marxism. But it did take 100 years to drag us to that point.

  • wayne

    Hey! btw, how much is gasoline in Cali?

    Pink Floyd + animation from “Dinner for Few”
    “One Of These Days” (1971)

    “Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry of wonderful times to come.”

  • Edward

    The Fabian Marxists won the argument that a slow transition of America to socialism was best, a century ago, and I agree that is when America started its transformation. As the student wrote in the 1912 Jean Webster novel, Daddy Long Legs, “Dear Comrade, Hooray! I’m a Fabian. That’s a Socialist who’s willing to wait. We don’t want the social revolution to come to-morrow morning; it would be too upsetting. We want it to come very gradually in the distant future, when we shall all be prepared and able to sustain the shock.” As we can see, some of the terminology existed before the Communists captured Russia and surrounding regions.

    Clearly, either Obama was impatient or thought that America was finally prepared and able to sustain the shock.

    However, my friend thinks that America started going downhill 120 years earlier, in 1794, when the government won the Whiskey Rebellion. This was fought over a tax on alcohol, specifically whiskey, and a similar tax was the. reason for the Boston Tea Party, and as you noted. it was an important precursor to the Revolutionary War.

    I don’t know the average price for Californian gasoline, but last night I paid $4.699. It has been worse, but I used to buy gas $20 at a time, but now I spend $40 under Biden’s policies.

  • wayne

    Gasoline on the SW shore of Michigan is hovering around $3.439 the gallon, primarily due to decreased demand. (It’s fast becoming Winter in Michigan.)

    A repeat from me, but you might find this informative->

    Murray Rothbard
    The American Economy and the End of Laissez-Fare; 1870 to WW-2
    Lecture 9; “The Progressive Era?”
    “The progressive movement came in 1900 to eliminate political parties. Technocrats and bureaucrats take over political power. Rural versus urban. Eliminate mayors, eliminate voting altogether, have appointed bureaucrats only. Nationalize public school system so costs could be socialized, like getting the public schools to teach Spanish. Children can all be part of a collective, without parental influence. Control shifted from ethnic working-class small communities to upper class WASPS. Only synthetic drugs remained legal in medicine. Rockefeller Institute backed it. Homeopathy was outlawed….”

    Ref: The Whiskey Rebellion–
    Your friend has a point
    Washington wanted to pay for the Revolutionay War debt (in part) by taxing alcohol, which I personally am opposed to, under any circumstances.
    “{expletive deleted} the King, and {expletive deleted} the tax-collector, with extreme prejudice.”
    The tax man always shows up at harvest time, but never at planting time….

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